Event designed to spark discussion of food sovereignty


NENAHNEZAD — A gathering here on Friday focused on developing perspectives on Native American food.

Denisa Livingston, community health advocate for the Diné Community Advocacy Alliance, said with 99 percent of the Navajo Nation labeled as a food desert, the promotion of food sovereignty is needed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as areas that lack access to fresh fruits and vegetables due to the absence of grocery stores, farmers markets or healthy food providers.

The event on Friday was designed to spark discussion about food sovereignty and encourage healthy food initiatives through traditional Navajo food tasting.

Participants were served a lunch consisting of steamed corn stew, blue corn mush and red sumac berry pudding, in addition to wild rice, salad and fruits.

"We feel this event here is a place to build a network, to build community and to build space," Livingston said.

Aretta Begay, director for Diné be' iiná Inc., said the Shiprock-based organization promotes and preserves traditional Navajo food through public education.

Last year, the group presented workshops that demonstrated traditional methods to butcher sheep and recipes for traditional dishes.

The classes ended in December, and a cookbook featuring recipes used at the workshops is under production, Begay said.

As members of Slow Food Turtle Island Association, Livingston and Begay participated in the Slow Food International Congress from Sept. 29 to Oct. 1 in Chengdu, China.

Begay said the exposure to Chinese cuisine increased her perspective about indigenous foods and drinks. She said the Chinese culture views food and drink as medicine.

At the international conference, Begay participated in discussions that centered on climate change and its impact on indigenous food sources, and the decline in traditional food knowledge.

Jairus Sorrelhorse attended Friday's event because he wanted to learn about the benefits of locally sourced foods since he is working to restart his father-in-law's farm in Lower Fruitland.

He said the presentations made him think about food sources and the reliance on non-Native foods.

"I feel like it's been a long time since we had a voice," Sorrelhorse said about the movement to reclaim Native food.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.

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